How To Help Your Kids Sidestep The Crazy, Part II: The Game Plan
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
So let’s get down to brass tacks here. What’s the game plan as a parent? Some of these are specific, while others are more general attitude shifts:
I) Educate yourself, and make it a priority. You must take your own discipleship seriously. Of course a necessary part of this is the spiritual disciplines: Scripture reading/study/memorization, solitude, prayer, etc. Another necessary part is reading and study outside of that. You must make forming a thoroughgoing Christian mind a priority. Read deeply, and widely: sociology, psychology, philosophy, science. Through reading and other forms of study (ex: podcasts, youtube, attending talks, etc), develop a Christian perspective on each of those domains of knowledge and the questions therein, and bring the knowledge domain (yes, it is knowledge, not just faith) of biblical theology to bear on those arenas. This takes time and effort.
Do you need to study for hours each night or go get a phd? No, but you do need to start somewhere. And I know what you might say: "I don’t have time. I’m seriously just keeping my head above water with work, being a chauffeur for my kids, cooking meals, keeping the house in order, paying bills, etc." You *do* have time. If it is enough of a priority, you’ll find time. Look at it this way: if you live a sedentary life, and always say “I don’t have the time or energy to workout”, but tomorrow you found out you have adult onset diabetes and if you don’t turn things around you won’t live but 10 years more, I guarantee you’ll find time to workout, easily. That’s the way priorities work. There is always time for what’s important to you. To that end, making it work isn’t rocket science. Start small, keep it consistent, and leverage the time and space already in your day. Listen to an audio book while showering, or on your way to work, or while cooking dinner. Leveraging just a few moments like that in your day frees up 20 minutes at least, and 20 minutes every day adds up to a lot. If you can perhaps watch a few less TV shows a week or limit social media consumption/scrolling each day, that frees up even more time. It’s the slight edge. Be a master of consistency. Why is this important? It’s important because this is the foundation you’ll be using to help your own kids wade through this stuff. The more you see, the more you can help your own kids navigate. You can’t pass on what you don’t have in the first place. That being said, don’t wait until you reach a certain “level of knowledge” to start discipling your own kids. If you wait until you are comfortable or until you think you have “enough” knowledge, you’ll never start. Start today, and make it a journey you take together with your kids. There are a *ton* of good resources out there. You don’t need to rely on the same old populist/superficial Christian subculture. If you don’t know where to start, consider these resource lists here, here, and here. Also, Natasha Crain has a pair of books for parents just starting out on this journey.
II) Make discipleship unto Christ a priority in your family’s life habit, and be willing to make sacrifices to keep it that way. Convenience is an American idol, and that goes for many Christian families too. For example, we *say* we put Christ above all, but when the kids’ soccer game is conflicts with church service, we prioritize that over church attendance, rationalizing along the way. “Hey man, things come up.” “It’s just temporary. We go most Sundays.” It's not sufficient on its own, but it is necessary. Church attendance is not a small, ancillary thing in the Christian life. I know it’s easy to slide in that direction, but resist the temptation to scuttle things like church when it gets inconvenient. Things like that teach big lessons to children. If that is what you do, don’t be surprised if, down the road, your kids decide to not take Jesus seriously either. No one bats a thousand, of course, but resist the temptation. It is vastly important that you help your kids gain a backbone--to prioritize Christ when it is costly and inconvenient, and it *starts* in the little things like that. In sum, prepare your kids to sacrifice, in big and little ways, and be prepared to make sacrifices yourself, including sacrifices that hurt--job promotion, success, social esteem--to keep Christ as Lord in your heart and life.
III) It is never too late to start discipling and teaching your kids, but the earlier the better. For kids it feels more natural and a part of life if a certain life rhythm is done from the beginning, rather than installed later as they are older...but I emphasize: don’t let this stop you from making certain changes to your family habits down the road. Better late than never. If they roll their eyes or give you weird looks, or think you are odd, so what.
IV) Similarly, be ok with being perceived as weird or out of step with culture. Infuse the same outlook in your kids. Respectability is an idol in middle class America, and in the body of Christ, that idol needs to die. Being immune--or at least strongly resistant to--the cultural peer pressure will become a more and more necessary survival tool in the coming years. JD Vance, whom I quoted in the student thinking series, nails how this can work against spiritual health. Speaking of the time he himself walked away while in college (he eventually found his way back to the Church), he says:
...my abandonment of religion was more cultural than intellectual...the truth is that I discarded (my religious convictions) for the simplest of reasons: the madness of crowds. Much of my new atheism came down to a desire for social acceptance among American elites. I spent so much of my time around a different type of people with a different set of priorities that I couldn’t help but absorb some of their preferences. I became interested in secularism just as my attention turned to my separation from the Marines and my impending transition to college. I knew how the educated tended to feel about religion: at best, provincial and stupid; at worst, evil. Echoing Hitchens, I began to think and then eventually to say things like: “The Christian cosmos is more like North Korea than America, and I know where I’d like to live.” I was fitting in to my new caste, in deed and emotion. I am embarrassed to admit this, but the truth often reflects poorly on its subject. And if I can say something in my defense: it wasn’t exactly conscious. I didn’t think to myself, “I am not going to be a Christian because Christians are rubes and I want to plant myself firmly in the meritocratic master class.” Socialization operates in more subtle, but more powerful ways. My son is two, and he has in the last six months—just as his social intelligence has skyrocketed—transitioned from ripping our German Shepherd’s fur out to hugging and kissing him gleefully. Part of that comes from the joy of giving and receiving affections from man’s best friend. But part of it comes from the fact that my wife and I grimace and complain when he tortures the dog but coo and laugh when he loves on it. He responds to us much as I responded to the educated caste to which I slowly gained exposure. In college, very few of my friends and even fewer of my professors had any sort of religious faith. Secularism may not have been a prerequisite to join the elites, but it sure made things easier.
Talk to your kids--often--about how this works. Help them to see how the game is played. Do it without going to the opposite “don’t let anyone tell you what to do” extreme--there are times, often, when we need to listen to the community (leaning on tradition and the wisdom of the ages can help us do this well. See C.S Lewis’ essay “On The Reading Of Old Books” for good thought on this)--but help them to see mob action at work and inject a good bit of fortitude in their spines. The crowd exhibits a very, very strong pull on kids today. To help them stay faithful you will need to teach and model courage. Live that kind of life yourself. Live not by lies. Consider the lessons of Havel’s Greengrocer:
Havel, who died in 2011, preached what he called “antipolitical politics,” the essence of which he described as “living in truth.” His most famous and thorough statement of this was a long 1978 essay titled “The Power of the Powerless,” which electrified the Eastern European resistance movements when it first appeared. It is a remarkable document, one that bears careful study and reflection by orthodox Christians in the West today.
Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power—and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity.
Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth”— and it’s going to cost him plenty.
He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. But by bearing witness to the truth, he has accomplished something potentially powerful:
He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.
Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system—but he has preserved his humanity. And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether this party or that politician holds power (a fact that became painfully clear during the debasing 2016 U.S. presidential campaign).--Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option
Be prepared and willing to do this in your own life.
More to come in the next post!